Category Archives: Rothera Research Station

Finlandia Foothills and a Skua Survey

The news was broken to me at Halley that I was the only person flying back to Rothera with Olly the pilot.  My dreams of alternating between napping and reading my book in the back while someone else did co-pilot duties were shattered!  As the plane was so light we flew direct from Halley to Rothera in just under seven hours with me still managing to get a bit of a nap and some reading done.  In reality it was a fun trip feeling much more like a road trip than normal with just Olly and I chatting away and me occasionally doing a little bit of flying to give Olly a break.  On the way out of Halley we flew over the RRS Ernest Shackleton doing relief on the Brunt Ice Shelf 40km from the Halley base.

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The “Shack” doing relief with lots of cargo sledges and vehicle lined up to take the cargo back to base.
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By the time we got to Rothera it was grey and overcast.  Flying from Halley to Rothera directly does mean that the last bit of the journey has some interesting views as the route cuts across the peninsular.

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Back at Rothera Julie and I had a bit of planning and packing to do before the input to the Finlandia Foothills for our final short project of the season.  It wasn’t until after Julie had flown in to establish our camp that I was shown this excerpt from the previous field party in the area in the early 80’s.  Needless to say Julie and Pete were on the ground for five days waiting for the weather to improve for the rest of us to fly in.931A6473

Julie walking away from camp with the Wilson range behind.  The team of six of us were in the Finlandia Foothills on Alexander island in the hope of establishing an Antarctic Special Protected Area (ASPA).  An area of the foothills had shown promise via satellites and four scientists were expecting a higher than normal density of biological matter and some birds. (Basically bird poo, birds, moss and lichens).  (Fossil Bluff is also on Alexander Island which at BAS is often referred to as being the same size as Wales.  I recently learnt that it is also the second largest uninhabited island in the world)

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On our first afternoon we headed up on the screes above camp looking for moss and lichen931A6490

Pete hard at work collecting Lichens931A6499Gearing up to leave camp.  On this day we decided to head down to our main objective just over 6km away.  Note the bird net Richard is carrying.931A6503

Julie and the two Pete’s skiing away from camp.

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What a lot of Lichen!  After three hours of glacier travel on skis and foot we reached the site to realise that there was…. just a few bits of Lichen and no sign of birds, bird poo or moss.  We had expected the sample collections at this site to take three to four days!
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Scientists in the mist.  While at the site Kevin wanted to collect a series of DNA samples making him and Richard look particularly strange wandering around in the mist.  Needless to say it was quickly decided that the site was not worthy of ASPA status!
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The neighbours – It was great to be in a field camp as a large group again as once we had discovered the site was not what we wanted we had to wait a few days to be picked up.931A6538

Julie and the Petes being told the planes wont arrive tomorrow.

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After eleven days for Julie and just six for me we flew back late afternoon over some amazing chunks of sea ice and the RSS James Clark Ross doing relief at Rothera.

931A6555JCR on the Rothera Wharf.

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Skua survey.  After a brief couple of days at Rothera it was straight back out with my tentmates from Finlandia, Kevin and Richard, to carry on a skua survey on the islands near Rothera.  The flags on Kevin and Richards bags are to give the skua’s something to go for rather than your head when you’re peering into their nests.931A6577

Skua chick.  While Kevin outlined survey areas and Richard counted nesting pairs I tried to count nest contents.  Despite the skuas clearly showing you where their nests are by swooping you more and more aggressively the nests are surprisingly hard to spot.931A6613

Our salubrious accommodation on Anchorage island.  Salubrious until I pulled the door off the hut within minutes of our arrival!   931A6617

More Skua chicks.931A6620

Inquisitive Weddel seal.  I’ve spent barely any time on the islands around Rothera so doing the Skua survey was a great excuse to wander around and get some photos on both Anchorage and Leonie Island.
931A6682Incoming! Despite being assured by Richard that the skuas were not that aggressive and would only go for the flag some of the birds were extremely persistent I did get a few good hits to my head by some of the more adventurous ones.

One more week in Antarctica before heading home to Scottish winter which appears to be shaping up nicely.

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The Depot that wasnt there – Part 2

After two days sorting kit at Rothera I was headed back to Mt Murphy.  This time with Steve (Field Assistant) and Zac (Boatman) along with a metal detector, Ground penetrating Radar(GPR), snow blower and a full camp setup to be able to spend as long as needed to raise the depot and drive it back some of the way toward Rothera.  This time we got through Sky Blu with only a day of waiting and jumped on the plane with Vicky who had Adam (boatman) as Co-pilot.931A0755Steve towing and Zac reading the GPR.931A0756Zac, Adam and Steve in the first pit.  I thought we had seen a reflection on the GPR so we started digging down looking for flags again.  We carried on GPRing and saw an even better reflection so started digging another hole.931A0758Steve turned out to have the luck of the day spotting the depot on the GPR screen and finding the first flag.  Above – sheer joy at finding the first flag.931A0762Zac in the hole checking we are going the right direction.  The end of the metal detector is about 20cm from the top of the skidoos in this photo.  The depots were buried by about 3.5 – 4m of accumulation.931A0773Down in the hole.  We excavated the three skidoos and then tunneled back to pull out the rest of the kit.  In the depot were 3 skidoos, 5 Nansen sledges (Wood), a siglin sledge (Plastic), three tents, two 44gallon drums, 24 fuel jerries, lots of science boxes, skis, clothing, food, fuel etc etc etc.  Once we started pulling things out it got more exciting though chipping away in the back of the cave was not.931A0800Hard not to enjoy yourself when this is the view.931A0822Zac had not been on base long so in the name of further training we did manage to get out and about a couple of days.  Above – Steve staring out to the cost on the Ridge above camp.
931A0863 Steve and Zac doing some further training on Mt Murphy the large peak behind camp.931A0872 Steve, Zac and I having a tough day.931A0876 The final mission was digging up the fuel bladder which was on a big plastic sledge.  We had learnt what worked and what didnt (mainly the snowblower) on the first depot so this one wasnt quite as bad though we did have to dig carefully as we got close to it to avoid any punctures.931A0879Rain on the tent.
931A1833After twelve days we packed up for our 800km drive back across West Antarctica.  This was the same drive I did in 2015 though in reverse.
931A1841 Selfie in the wing mirror931A1849The next camp – everything is depoted in a line ninety degrees to the prevailing wind.  We were lucky with weather and driving surfaces on our first day and managed to move 150km.
931A1859Zac making calzones on a lie up day.
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The team with no place to go.  This was taken on the last day when we had to stop due to poor contrast.  931A1904 After eight days we finally got to “Castle depot” on the edge of the Ellsworth mountains where we were due for pick up.  We then waited for pick up for a few days ending up being out there for a total of a month.IMG_8719Steve and Zac cooking Christmas dinner in the tent.IMG_8723The final sledge coming out of the first Depot.

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The Depot That Wasn’t There – Part 1

Summers as a field assistant at Rothera are all about being flexible to changes.  When working on base its possible to wake up in the morning and be told you are flying somewhere for the day, or a couple of days or even a couple of weeks.  With that in mind it should not be a surprise how different my summer ended up looking from the one planned.  Myself and Jo left Rothera at the start of December thinking we were going to the Kohler mountains for her Geology work.  We estimated that we were going to be out there roughly 50 days not knowing that we would be back at Rothera in a week.  We left rothera and headed to Sky Blu – a common place to get stuck as you wait for the weather to improve further south and a plane to become available.  As most of our stuff was in a depot at Mt Murphy we only need one plane and managed to get through Sky Blu having only spent 4 days there.  We flew on to the Depot at Mt Murphy picking up another field assistant (Al) on the way as he also needed stuff from the Depot at Murphy.  On flying in I was sat in the co-pilots seat and it was obvious something was not quite right.  We passed overhead in the plane a couple of times with myself and the pilot (Vicky) both looking for any sign of the flags and kit that was left there 10 months ago.  We landed and Al and I wandered out to the GPS point of where the depot had been.  As the depot was on a glacier we were not expecting it to be in exactly the same place but we did expect to see something of the 3m bamboo flags that mark it.
Antarctica.001931A0539Life at Sky Blu is a lot more comfortable than last year complete with couchs and a decent kitchen.
931A0583Twin Otter landing on the ice at Sky Blu to take us further into the continent.

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Steve with his first cup of tea of the day.  We stopped to swap Steve for Al at one of the depots.  Steve decided to share a tent with me to experience my sleepwalking – little did he know that he would have to put up with a month of it later in the season!
931A0704So we started digging.  We hoped to pick up the top of one of the 3m bamboo flags – probably as close to a needle in a haystack as you can get.  We dug multiple pits to about 1.5m before deciding on a spot of highest probability and digging a trench across the direction of flow of the Glacier.  Al, Jo and Vicky in the trench late in the evening.
931A0679Unsuccessful!  After a day of digging and searching we were told to return to Rothera.  Al, Jo and Vicky walking back to the plane at about 10pm.931A0707Vicky leading Al and I in some yoga before bed.  I think Al (far left) might be inventing his own yoga poses.931A0718The next morning we packed up and headed for Rothera.  Above – Jo contemplating 10hours in a small aircraft.931A0729Flying back to Rothera.

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Fossil Bluff again….

I have spent most of November at Fossil Bluff originally going out for “a week or so” and eventually staying for eighteen days. I was last at Fossil Bluff in November last year so it was great to go back.  Life at Fossil bluff is extremely relaxed while also being tied to hourly Met observations that get passed back to Rothera for the forecasters and pilots to work out what is going on.  The first 24hrs this year was very social.  Myself and Tom had gone in to relieve Al and Saz on a plane with two pilots and two other Field assistants.  We ended up staying at the hut together for a night before the plane could fly on to Sky Blu.  This was perfect for Tom and I as it gave time for Al and Saz to give us a good handover.
931a0105 Tom, Julie, Steve, Saz and Al chilling on the Balcony when we first arrived.931a0116 A heated game of Uno on the first night.931a0127Tom heading up the ridge from the hut.  Tom was with me for the first week and as there were no planes we got out and about in the local travel area quite a bit.  Tom works as a Base General Assistant (probably one of the most applied for jobs with BAS) who run fossil bluff after its been opened up.  These guys get to spend about a third of their summer in the hut but I think this more than paid for by the work they do sorting all the rubbish and recycling on base!img_8672Tom and I’s Saturday night – Pizza and Whisky!  The hut has a couple of primus stoves as well as a “Reflex Stove” which means you can make some pretty amazing food.0029Sun setting over the hut.  931a0131As many will know I go thought phases of sleep walking quite a bit.  I found myself on the balcony at 4am one morning but it was worth it for this sunrise.931a0144931a0153Olly the new pilot coming in from the North End of the Runway.931a0173With a name like Fossil Bluff its no surprise that there is Fossils everywhere.  Last year there was too much snow around to find much but this year Tom and I found quite a few on a wonder to Bellamite Valley931a0182The hut from North with one of the weather stations out the front.931a0199Tom staring out across King George Sound.  The skiway is below this outcrop (the Sphinx) by about 1500 ft.931a0209 One of our many wanders in the hills behind the hut.931a0219-panoLooking out (North) from the highest peak in the area “Pearce Dome”931a0268After Tom left I was joined by another Base GA Joe who brought some colder weather with him.  Above – me very happy (and possibly slightly caffeinated) in my down bag watching a movie (probably Harry Potter!) img_4668Joe and I didnt have a huge amount to do so spent a lot of time messing around and doing some filming.  Above – Joe and I sat in the old Muskeg tractor in the Garage behind the hut.img_4672The old Muskeg – its truly amazing that they ever got anywhere in these.  Maybe in 60 years Piston Bullies will look as dated.931a0283Olly came to take me home.  Fossil Bluff to Rothera is definitely one of my favourite flights and this one was great as Olly coached me all the way into the final approach to Rothera.931a0315Just after Olly took back over – The Rothera runway straight ahead.

I have a fair bit of film and timelapse from Fossil Bluff which will no doubt appear at some point though for now I am packing for my field season.  Back to West Antarctica and Marie Byrd Land for some rock collecting – cant wait!

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Snow Clearing and the End of Winter Trips

The last couple of weeks have seen endless low pressure systems hit the Antarctic Peninsular bringing stormy weather and lots of snow.  Winter trips have continued with life as a field assistant meaning alternate weeks on base or out in the field.  This weekend marks the last weekend of winter with the first planes due through Rothera next Saturday.img_0440Adam posing on the ridge between “Max” and “Mouse” in the Stokes peaks.  All the Stokes peaks are named after dogs and are a popular destination for winter trips.  Two days after this Adam and I experienced gusts of wind up to 70 knots (force 12 is described as 64+) which destroyed our toilet tent resulting in some adventurous toilet experiences.img_0238Kate approaching the summit of “Morgan” in the Stokes on her winter trip.  I realised at the end of Kates trip that I will have spent about 12% of my time in Antarctica camped at Trident East.  While not far from base the options for skiing and mountaineering from this camp are amazing.img_8331With planes now due in a week snow clearing has started in earnest with both machines and people power.  Above – Window in the accommodation building surrounded by icicles and buried in snow.
img_8324Snow clearing the runway.  Snow clearing can only happen on good weather days meaning long hours for the Matt the mechanic and the other drivers.img_8323People power on the Hangar doors.  This took ten of us a day of digging and chipping before we could get them open.  Turns out they’re snowed in again now!img_8314Hector watching as Matt clears in front of the Hangar with the JCB 436.img_8378 The last of the winter trips was myself and Al last week.  Above – Al looking up at the next pitch of one of the routes we did on the second day of our trip.  Al and I headed to the other side of the island (back to the Myth campsite) with the hope of climbing one of the bigger peaks.img_0953Al on the summit of Mt Liotard just after 11am.  Mt Liotard was named for a french observer who surveyed the peak in 1909 and is visible from Base across Ryder Bay.  The tenth photo down in this blog post  We heard of a brief weather window on our second night in the tent so left camp early to get up and down before the high winds came in.  You can see the edge of the weather front coming in from the right of the shot.  img_1037Al skiing back to the Ski-doos with the summit (on the right) already in the clouds.  We were pretty lucky with conditions with great snow from col (directly above Al’s head) all the way back down.  Probably about 4km and 1000m of descent on perfect powder!img_1050The other reality of winter trips – Al with a cup of tea and snow melting on the stove.  About 25-30% of the time on a winter trip you are stuck in the tent as the weather is so bad.  The first day of lie-up is usually nice and relaxing and a great chance to do lots of reading.  Books, games and lots of cups of tea are the order of the day.img_8416More normal winter weather.  Al and I spent the last day of our winter trip determined to get out climbing finding some very Scottish conditions.  I’m not even sure if this photo is of me or Al as we were both wearing the same BAS issue clothing.img_8498Even after six months stuck with each other its amazing the efforts people still go to.  Bradders (Polar Bear), Emily (Zebra), Tom (Lion) and Jesus (Girrafe) dressing up for one last saturday night before we get invaded.

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The Myth and Carvajal

I was going to wait another week before doing a blog post but realised it was the end of the month.  August has flown past – I don’t remember it starting and only noticed it was here when my payslip arrived the other day.  We have had lots of sun over the last few weeks with settled weather and winter trips running every week.  I am really realising the value of the winter trips this time round – having four people head off on adventures every week gives us something to talk about other than who hasn’t done the washing up and makes for a much more lively community as people are coming and going.  My first two trips of this round have both been to the same place, the Myth.  The Myth campsite is on the other side of Adelaide Island from Rothera and is at the base of some really impressive mountains (the Myth is a smaller subsidiary peak of “The Legend”).  Camping on the far side of the island feels incredibly remote and even getting there is a bit of an adventure with a lot of time on the skidoos through some crevassed terrain. IMG_8203Self Portrait on the way to the Myth.  Ben and I stopped to savour the first sun we had seen for a couple of months.  It was still -25degC and we discovered our sandwiches had frozen solid.IMG_8202Trying to defrost my sandwich on the skidoo exhaust.  The sandwich stayed frozen but I did have the lovely smell of toast coming out of the engine for the next couple of kilometres.IMG_6882First night at the Myth campsite with the milky way overhead.  Bradders and Octavian were out on a trip as well so it was great to camp as a party of four.IMG_6912On our second day the four of us decided to drive to Carvajal Base.  It was probably -30degC this day and we had to keep stopping as I kept loosing feeling in my throttle hand.  The skidoos are not too bad to drive most days if you wear enough clothing as they have boot warmers and heated hand grips but I think -25 is probably the limit!IMG_7163-HDROriginally a British base and called Adelaide Station it was abandoned in 1977 when Rothera was established and given to the Chilean’s in 1984 who renamed it Carvajal
IMG_7180The base is in a stunning location though pretty run down and its amazing to wander around an Antarctic ghost town.  IMG_8222Above the base is an abandoned plane which is great for random photos.  Bradders and Ben trying to fly the plane.
IMG_8232Another game of scrabble.  Ben and Octavian where both very keen to visit Carvajal so were thankfully not too put out when we got stuck in the tents for three days after we had visited.  “Lie up” days can be great fun with a bit of food and some games.  IMG_7198Emily and I visited Carvajal two weeks later in much warmer temperatures (-15)IMG_7118Emily had asked to build and igloo on her trip so when we woke up in a cloud on the second day it seemed an ideal opportunity.  Emily looking worried about having to build the roof over her own head.IMG_7516Tent and Igloo at night.  We managed to get the roof to stay on the igloo on our second attempt.  The peak above the igloo is “The legend” with the Myth the triangular subsidiary peak to the left.IMG_7545Bradders and Matt had waited a couple of days but came and found us at the Myth campsite.  We did offer for them to stay in the igloo but they declined.  The four of us enjoying the sun.IMG_7553Emily and I also had a day exploring some other areas.  We managed to climb to a coll between two mountains (Mt Mangin and Mt Barre) to get some views back towards Rothera.  Above – Amazing spindrift coming off the Mt Mangin ridge.
IMG_7564The view back towards Rothera in the bottom right of the photo.  As you can tell this was pretty late in the day by the time we got up to the coll (lots of false summits) but it meant for an amazing drive back in the sunset.IMG_7575Emily pleased to have finally made it.
IMG_7578The end is in sight.  My skidoo and sledge in McCallums pass.  Getting through the pass with a good amount of visibility is crucial so its always a relief to get there and find it looking like this.  The photo doesnt show some of the danger in the pass – the severely crevassed shambles glacier is heading down to the sea on the left and the pass goes up to the right of the mountain the skidoo is heading for (and through some more crevassing).IMG_8205Cant wait to get rid of the beard.  I am now trying to hang on until I’ve had it for a full year but it is pretty frustrating when your beard freezes to your moustache and you cant open your mouth!

The high pressure has broken at Rothera with a fairly stormy weekend but I’m currently waiting to see what the weather does tomorrow for my next winter trip – this time with the dive officer Kate.

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The Other Side of Winter

Its easy to keep taking photos of the stunning scenery here, the icebergs, glaciers and snow-clad mountains but for this month I have tried to focus on life on base and to try and answer some of the questions that have come my way.  With no sensible way of getting anyone away from the base we are all “stuck” here until the first plane comes in October.  A few people have asked why BAS need people to overwinter in Antarctica.  There is some marine science done from Rothera over the winter either diving from boats or through holes in the ice.  Obviously if you need some people to be on the base the list quickly grows – if theres diving there should probably be a doctor and boatman, these people will need basic amenities like water, electricity, housing etc, these people will then need to be cooked for and so on.  The list quickly grows.  Another reason is so that Britain continues to have a say in the Antarctic treaty.  With these things in mind there are 21 of us based at Rothera over winter, Station Leader, Chef, Doctor, Communications Manager, four Field Assistants, Dive Officer, Three Marine Scientists (I am sure I will get some abuse for not actually knowing there job titles!), Boatman, Two Plumbers, Chippy, Sparky, Mechanic, Generator Mechanic, Electronics Engineer and Meteorologist.  Most people work 9-5 Monday to Friday with everyone taking turns to do a day of “gash” (cleaning) and to cover for the Chefs day off.  While we work core hours if something needs done then people just get on with it and its pretty normal to have a few people helping on big jobs (like digging out doorways).
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The Flag lowering ceremony.  As the most senior person on base (his tenth winter in Antarctica!) Dave lowered the British flag last week to mark the last time the base will see direct sunlight for a few weeks.  Our days are getting shorter by 7-8minutes every day making the lack of daylight really noticeable from one weekend to the next.  The flag will be raised again by the youngest person on base in about two months time.IMG_2723

Its not all pretty sunsets.  Ben walking to work (9am) last week as the base was slammed by rain, sleet, snow, winds up to 50knots and temperatures up to +9degrees C.  Even walking between buildings can be pretty hazardous.IMG_2593

Digging out one of my sledges.  All the field assistants have at least two sledges of kit for their winter trips stored about 4km from base with easy access to the mountains.  While Antarctica is the driest continent, we do live in one of the places that gets the most precipitation and digging out your sledges can be a fairly common activity.  IMG_2728

School.  As there are a variety of skill sets throughout the staff people occasionally run sessions so that you can learn about their trade.  We had a “Doc School” the other day with Doc Tom (right) showing us how to use the X-ray machine.  In Toms case its important to run these sessions in case of a major incident so that people are able to assist him (or fix him!).  I have no idea why Calum, Ben and Adam look so serious!IMG_2726

The real men of Antarctica.  Nelly the Generator Mech (left) and Maybell the Mechanic (right) using the D4 to move some fuel around.  With the ice we have all around the base just now even this machine was sliding around.IMG_2608

With the long nights we have to find ways to amuse ourselves.  Friday after work drinks in the Genny shed for a change of scene.IMG_2677

Tom (Doctor) and Rob (Plumber) in serious discussion at one of many fancy dress evenings.  (this was a masquerade ball)
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Table Tennis – probably the most popular Antarctic sport.  I would guess that there a few of us currently playing a minimum of about 7hrs of table tennis a week complete with a leader board and a handicap system.IMG_2566

Sea Ice.  The sea ice of lack of sea ice is a daily conversation on base.  This affects whether the boats can go out or whether people will be travelling on the ice to cut holes and dive from the ice itself.  Both the boating or the sea ice could involve any number of people from base.IMG_2599Sea ice party on the ice in the early afternoon.IMG_2600The tag out board.  One of the things I struggle with most down here is the lack of freedom to go where and when you want.  The tag out board is used to show your movement around various places both on the base and off it.  The white tags are everyones names (mainly tagged into their rooms) and you move your tag to where you are about to go while also recording it in a book with the time you expect to be back.  The four tags in the bottom right are “in the field”- basically out on a winter trip.  You can also see a VHF in the bottom right.  We all carry VHF at all times.IMG_2604Lewis (Chef) helping out Matt (Mechanic) in the kitchen even on his day off.
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More digging.  You should just be able to make out Nelly digging out the Hangar doors.  In the winter the Hangar is used for most of the big machinery.  Theres always something needed dug out.IMG_2537

There are no simple jobs.  Almost everything you do seems to involve digging stuff, moving stuff, finding and starting a skidoo and usually asking for help on the VHF.  Hector (Chippy) loading old plasterboard into the skip in the hangar.
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The good news is most of those boxes are cheese.  The bad news is we had to move them all from the freezer to count them and then put them back again.  Lewis (chef), Malcy (Station Leader) and Al (Field Assistant) in the middle of the count.
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Some people do work at random times.  John (Meteorologist) has to send weather balloons up three mornings a week as well as doing Met Observations at three hourly intvervals.  John releasing a weather balloon after I had messed up the first one by dropping recording instrument (the little white box).IMG_1853

Marine Science happens all year round and the marine team usually needs crew to come out on the boats with them.  Saz (left) and Emily (right) being helped by Octavian (Electronics Engineer).  Helping on the boats is a great break from normal routine but can be incredibly cold with no direct sunlight.IMG_1848Permanent sunset from the boatIMG_1872The Winter Team.  Back row from Left – Dave, Al, Calum, Emily, Saz, Octavian, Rob, Nelly, Lewis, Bradders, Maybell, Hector, Tom.  Front row from Left – Malcy, Ben, Chris, John, Kate, Adam, Me and Jesus.

 

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